What’s new with the flu?

This year, a number of vaccines are being offered to target three multiple flu strains. Image: CDC

The Centers for Disease Control have announced the new vaccines for the coming flu season. The vaccines’ formulation is based on a best guess as to which of last year’s flu strains will return to trouble us this season. There are a number of vaccine types being proffered this year.

The target strains in common for all vaccines are:

  1. A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
  2. A/H3N2 virus, antigenically like the cell-propagated prototype virus A/Victoria/361/2011
  3. B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus (Yamagata lineage)

A vaccine that targets three strains is known as being trivalent, and, as seen above, this season’s trivalent formulation prevents against one B lineage, the Yamagata lineage. This year the CDC is also introducing a quadrivalent formulation. The rationale for providing a vaccine that protects against a fourth strain is that two Influenza B lineages were seen last year. So this year some vaccines will contain both Yamagata and Victoria B lineage antigens. CDC anticipates that the preponderance of this year’s vaccine will be trivalent, which is what Fermilab will provide. Our delivery format will be the standard in-the-muscle version.

Some exciting news is that vaccine producers have perfected technologies that are both egg-free and rapidly scalable. The technologies could help curb a pandemic by getting a customized vaccine pushed out very rapidly. One of these vaccines is cell culture-based. Another contains recombinant hemagglutinin, which allows the vaccine to be produced quickly and in large quantities.

The Fermilab Medical Office will use legacy-derived vaccine. If you are egg-allergic, the above-mentioned types may be helpful to you. This list of CDC flu vaccine recommendations has a decision tree that can assist you and your doctor in selecting a vaccine for varying degrees of egg allergy. This season there will again be the option of a high-dose vaccine for those over age 65 and an intradermal (skin prick) vaccine for those between the ages of 18 and 64. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices expresses no preferences in regard to these options.

Of course the vaccine is only one, albeit an important, tactic in combatting the flu. Hand-washing frequently, and particularly before touching one’s face or eating, helps prevent environmental transfer. Wiping down high-touch items such as counters, door knobs and phones helps limit spread if someone in your household or workplace falls ill.

The Fermilab Medical Office will provide flu vaccination for Fermilab employees in early October. More details about vaccination sign-up will be available in the near future on the Medical Office website and in Fermilab Today.

Hopefully with some defensive moves, we can evade the flu this season.

Brian Svazas, M.D., M.P.H.